I have a friend, Yaz, who I think is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. She is a doctor. She is hilarious, incredibly clever, opinionated and willing to back her opinions up with facts and carefully thought out arguments. She is beautiful. She wears scarves in her hair and brightly coloured shirts and has a laugh that lights up a room. She also took me to get an excellent sandwich once, which is enough to win my loyalty forever.
Recently she was taken aside by a supervisor at work and told her skirts were too short. She wrote this incredible piece about it, and asked that I share it here.
If you want to follow Yaz, I recommend you do because she is hilarious and insightful and generally quite wonderful – @yasminleighw
Trigger warnings for: eating disorders, mental health, self-harm
I’m six weeks into my first job as a doctor, a role I have simultaneously dreaded and dreamed of for the last six years. My charmingly eccentric consultant ominously informs me one Friday that I am needed in a meeting. No more information is given.
I stew for the next three days until we’re due to sit down. As a clinically depressed ball of stress I can assure you, I am a pro at worrying. Splitting hair to me is like the hepathalon to Jessica Ennis-Hill: Piece. Of. Piss.
I arrive at his office after my 13 hours on call overnight. I’m slightly frazzled, but no more than usual. He quickly informs me while I stand near the doorway that the nurses have been complaining about the length of my dresses. Initially I am flooded with relief; fears of accidentally killing, maiming or in some other way interfering with one of my charges without even realising had been my number one fear. I’d contended with several days of patient lists in excess of 40, whose care responsibilities lay solely with me. Had I missed a blood result, written a dose wrong or misinterpreted a chest x-ray? Was I not careful enough? Had I failed in my basic duty, namely, to do no harm?
No, not quite. I’d instead committed the next cardinal sin. I’d dared to show some leg, and the nurses had complained. After the wave of relief fades it’s replaced by that particular shame, embarrassment and humiliation that only a woman can feel. You can be fourteen or forty; nothing hurts like hearing your fellow peers have been talking about your behind your back.
So, picture that feeling. Picture your new colleagues, colleagues who you’ve built rapport with, developed in jokes with, begun to trust. Imagine you’ve been awake for 18 hours, you could sleep standing up and you find out those colleagues have been judging you behind your back, to the point in which they’ve felt the need to complain. Then have your male consultant have to take you aside and tell you this in front of his (female) secretary. Yeah. It’s wank.
Other than a (very much cherished) passing comment from a consultant who found me “somewhat reliable”, I had until this point received next to no feedback from work. As part of a very busy surgical firm I often feel as if I’m treading water in an ever-rising tide of faeces, urine and drains. I can recall only one time I’ve felt proud of my work: at 3am, when I referred a dying lady to the med reg on-call without being laughed or shouted at. He told me I’d managed my patient quite well, whilst staring at a computer screen and not even looking up to assure me he wasn’t talking to someone else. For my first piece of semi-formal feedback to be related to my appearance was entirely destructive. I had not managed to generate any opinion, I had left no mark, other than that I didn’t look right. I felt truly broken.
Part of my admittedly over-emotional response was related to my past. I’m fat. I’ve always thought I was fat, and only recently realised I actually wasn’t for most of my years of eating disorders and fad diets. It’s still quite a novel experience for me to not entirely repulse myself, but I’ve definitely improved since those days necking laxatives at precise times to ensure bouts of diarrhoea coincide with meal times or using black tea to distract from the fact I’ve only eaten 100 calories that day. It’s hard to see this however, when you’re back to where you were 10 years ago, crying in the loos with your fingers down your throat.
There is something entirely damaging about women talking about other women. The idea of a group of my colleagues who I get on so well with talking behind my back was enough to undo years of CBT and counselling. Before I knew it I was thrusting my head into that familiar aroma of pissy bleach. I was looking for the nearest sharp thing to drag across my disgusting thighs. I was seeing nothing but a body with no redeemable features.
Why should it be that, as a woman in medical practice, I have to contend with this bullshit? The most a man can be criticised on about his appearance is how garish his chinos are. Yet I studied just as long and as hard as those Y chromosome carriers, only to have my worth be determined by the cloth I wrap around my fat arse. Nah, that’s not cool. That does not sit well with me.
My wonderfully frank, supportive and all round amazing registrar calls me up after a rather wet WhatsApp from me. She listens to my tears and gives me the solid advice that makes me value her opinion so highly. Acknowledging the inequality and unfairness of the situation she offers me two options: I change my wardrobe and myself or I say fuck it, I’m a great doctor, people can deal with skirts that sit above my knees.
I’ve now realised it’s more than likely that my offending outfit was on one of the two days where temperatures were above 30 degrees, and I dared to forego my usual thick black tights lest I succumb to heatstroke. My skirts can be on the short side, but no one has ever said anything to my face. On the contrary, both patients and ward staff have frequently complimented me on the fact I wear such bright colours.
In the immortal words of Chris from Skins, I choose to say, “fuck it”. Judge me by my medical skills and not by how much of my thighs you can see. If you have a problem with it, the fault lies with you and not me. My two degrees and six years at Cambridge Uni say I’m more than deserving of my job at this hospital, and I’ll be damned if your attempts at propagating archaic sexist values are going to make me cry again (loljk they probably will, but at least I’ll have this blog to look back on and cheer myself up with).
P.S. sorry to everyone who had to watch me cry in Aromi. And thanks for providing me with the perfect opportunity to eat my feelings. Your Nutella spinatta/panino thingy was just what the doctor ordered (oh come on, I deserve that pun. It’s been a trying day)